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Ethanol Toxicity in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Ethanol is an alcohol that is used commonly as a solvent (liquid that dissolves) in medications and is the major ingredient of alcoholic beverages. It's also called ethyl alcohol and grain alcohol. Toxicity occurs when an excessive amount is ingested, and can cause a wide variety of signs, including death. Toxicity is more common in dogs than in cats.

Common causes of toxicity include:

  • Direct access to alcoholic beverages or spilled medication
  • Ingestion of fermented products (bread)
  • Intentional or malicious administration by human beings
  • Dermal (skin) exposure to these products

    What to Watch For

  • Odor of alcohol on the animal's breath or stomach contents
  • Ataxia (incoordination/staggering)
  • Behavioral changes
  • Excitement
  • Depression
  • Excessive urination and/or urinary incontinence
  • Slow respiratory rate
  • Cardiac arrest and death

    Diagnosis

  • Baseline testing, including a complete blood count and biochemical profile, are generally within normal limits, with the exception of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which is seen in some cases.

  • Blood ethanol concentration is the only means of definitively diagnosing ethanol toxicity, and is available in most human laboratories.

  • Blood gas analysis usually reveals acidosis (accumulation of acid in the body).

    Treatment

    Emergency veterinary care is necessary for affected animals. Treatment may include:

  • Gastrointestinal detoxification with activated charcoal.

  • Intravenous fluid therapy with electrolytes, dextrose (sugar), and sodium bicarbonate to treat/correct fluid and electrolyte abnormalities, hypoglycemia, and acidosis.

  • Ventilation/respiratory support in those with depressed respiratory function.

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation if cardiac arrest occurs.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Watch your pet closely, and call your veterinarian if there are any changes or problems. You should also administer all prescribed medication as directed by your veterinarian. Continue with follow-up care.

    Prevention involves keeping ethanol-containing products away from your pet. If you witness your pet ingesting ethanol, contact your veterinarian at once, even before the onset of any clinical signs.

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